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Dance Review

'Images From Within,' Deep in Thought

The American Repertory troupe combines vintage works and new choreography to capture scenes in the mind's eye.

September 23, 2002|JENNIFER FISHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On a day when the world is too much with you, what would your thoughts look like if they were a dance? The American Repertory Dance Company had a few answers Saturday night at Glendale's Alex Theatre in vintage works and new choreography called collectively "Images From Within."

In the 1940s, it seems, you might have punched at demons and collapsed like a house of cards, without thinking once that naked emotions need more complexity. Today, you might add more nuance and perhaps a lot of enigmatic gestures, but it seems no one can escape the idea of embodied contrast, which was everywhere on this program.

And whether a dance spoke obliquely or directly, the finely etched talents of the performers put the past and the present within reach with sheer concentration and skill. Watching eloquent Rachel Berman, for instance, was a delight in the rarely seen Eleanor King solos "Envy" and "Wrath," from the 1941 "Roads to Hell," even if she was tied up in knots, jabbing the air, swinging at phantoms or pounding the floor.

The same movement qualities did not entirely come "from within" but from an offstage lynching in Pearl Primus' 1943 solo "Strange Fruit." Unseen, choreographer Donald McKayle combined passion and clear tones while reading Lewis Allen's eponymous poem, while Lorraine Fields struggled to fathom a "pastoral scene of the gallant South."

Primus' work stood in stark contrast to the opening solo, "Incense," the Ruth St. Denis museum piece about walking and smoke. At least that's what it seems to be about without any context--an odd opener for this program. It might help an audience to know that St. Denis' cool, faux Indian rituals were one reason a new generation started pouring out emotions and dancing about more familiar subject matter.

Of course, all the arched angst of modern dance eventually led choreographers to diversify enormously, but ARDC, while following its relatively new mandate to include contemporary work, sticks with strongly constructed pieces in the modernist vein. Among them Saturday were two from 2000: Colin Connor's touching "Vestiges," stunningly danced by Connor and Debra Noble to dynamically rhapsodic recorded music by Michael Nyman; and "The Visit," a self-consciously brooding thing by Mark Denby in collaboration with ARDC artistic director Bonnie Oda Homsey, performed by Homsey and Laurence Blake.

"Of Grace and Courage" was the evening's four-part, four-choreographer premiere, with a commissioned score by Allan Terriciano, played at the piano by the composer (Terriciano also played for "Incense"), alongside musicians Monica Nguyen, Michael Wall and Gene Wie. Serving each dance well, the score seemed to provide the only link between the short works. For Connor's trio, "Falling Sky," piano notes seemed to weave among the dancers, who wheeled around each other, stopping short from time to time, as if frozen in sudden realizations.

Rhythms drawn from world music supported Berman, looking florid and fierce in Robert Battle's "Exiled," and Nancy Colahan, portraying Frida Kahlo, as she found that small physical limitations inhibited her attempts to soar in "Alas Pa' Volar" (Wings to Fly), by Andrea E. Woods.

McKayle's final segment, "Vow," featured Homsey, Connor, Noble and Fields, perhaps releasing more energy in more sustained phrases than earlier in the evening. Or, at least it seemed that way, as they swung and swayed, noodled a bit, and then gathered in a tight circle where closed fists exploded upward into small starbursts. Why not? Modernists like closure, and everyone likes to think there's hope.

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